According to one legend, the monastery was built on the site of a former pagan temple dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite Pyrene. According to another, the monastery evolved out of a chapel dedicated to St Peter built by three persecuted monks, who had hidden the relics of the saint in a nearby cave for safekeeping. Whatever its origin, the golden age of the monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes was during the 10th-13th centuries, after which it fell into decline and was later abandoned by the monks. Restoration works have saved the site from ruin and it is now one of the most representative examples of Romanesque architecture in Catalonia.
From the nearby town of El Port de la Selva, a steep, windy road leads up the mountains to the pretty hermitage of Santa Helena, the monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes, and the castle of Sant Salvador at the summit of the Verdera Mountains. The mere sight of the huge monastic enclosure, with the rocky landscape of Cap de Creus, the bay of El Port de la Selva, part of the Gulf of Lion, and the Mediterranean Sea in the background, will astound you before you even start the visit!
The church, the bell tower, the keep, the two cloisters, the crypt, the wine cellar, the abbot’s palace, the sacristies, and the monks’ cells will be brought alive by a monastery guide, who will regale you with stories and anecdotes about each of the various spaces. In this Benedictine monastery, the monks led a contemplative life devoting their time to work and prayer in accordance with the rule of St Benedict. First documented in 878, it developed over the years into the most important monastery in the historic county of Empúries, a centre of feudal and spiritual power. Its dominions included the village of Santa Creu de Rodes, specialising in trade and artisan production. The arrival of numerous pilgrims during the 12th-14th centuries ushered in a period of prosperity for the village, which at one stage had a population of some 250 inhabitants. Note the elegant, austere shapes of the Lombard Romanesque architecture; take a few minutes to admire the church portal decorated with white marble sculptures by the 12th-century craftsman known as Master of Cabestany; and marvel at the huge nave with its Romanesque vault resting on large pillars and adjoining columns, which makes one feel truly small and insignificant.
Before you leave the monastery, have a meal in the restaurant commanding magnificent views and restore your strength for the hermitage of Santa Helena de Rodes and the 20-minute walk up to the ruins of the medieval castle of Sant Salvador. You will be rewarded by unforgettable views of the Gulf of Roses, the Empordà Plain, Cap de Creus, the Pyrenees... and, on a clear day, the island of Majorca.